By Fred Rumsey, Special to the Tri-City Herald
Our country is in trouble. We all agree on the problems -- state and federal budgets, corporate greed, unemployment, stagnant wages and the soaring cost of living.
It doesn't matter if we're Republican, Democrat or Independent, we all recognize the problems. However, identifying the cause and finding a solution is where we are bitterly divided as a nation. Talk politics at a family picnic and you'll probably start a riot.
One of the biggest areas for disagreement involves labor unions. Listen to those on the right talk about unions and you'll hear words like socialism or communism and be utterly convinced that all of the problems in the country can be blamed on labor unions.
The country is going broke because labor unions have the nerve to demand a fair and livable wage for their members. Corporations cannot survive because of the safety regulations imposed by labor-backed legislation that ensures that American workers can go home in the same condition that they came to work in. The country is bankrupt because unions bargained pension plans for their retired members.
We need to privatize the U.S. Postal Service because those overpriced union pensions are bankrupting the country. We need to take away the collective bargaining rights for teachers and firefighters because they make entirely too much money. We need to eliminate the National Labor Relations Board because it has the nerve to enforce the laws that were passed to protect workers.
If we eliminate labor unions, every state in the country would have a balanced budget and corporations would magically shower their money upon us and everyone would live happily ever after.
Yet these same people that are blaming the condition of the country on these overpaid teachers, firefighters, and postal workers refuse to bat an eye when it comes to a CEO of a corporation making tens of millions of dollars a year.
They make no mention that in 1960, the ratio of CEO pay to factory worker was 42 to 1 and in 2000 was 531 to 1. They fail to mention that the current financial state of the postal system is a direct result of the Bush administration passing the Pension Protection Act that now requires Union pensions to be funded 75 years in advance.
They fail to mention that virtually every state in the country is facing a budget shortfall for 2012. They don't want to talk about non-union states like Texas with a 31.5 percent deficit or Idaho at 12.6 percent or North Carolina with a deficit of 20 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Instead, they blame unions.
Instead of embracing the core values that unions support such as fair wages, benefits and safe working conditions, they call union workers lazy. Instead of pursuing ways to ensure a strong, vibrant middle class in this country they continue with their agenda of tax cuts for the wealthiest while balancing the budget on the backs of workers.
Instead of recognizing America's greatest asset is its workers, they give tax breaks to their corporate buddies who send American jobs overseas.
Instead of finding a way to fix our economy and put Americans back to work, they find ways to change the conversation to birth control, religion or guns. Instead of finding a way to work together to ensure all Americans get a fair shot at the American Dream, they continue to drive their wedge issues even deeper.
I can remember a time in this country when we found a way to work together to solve our problems. I remember when the enemy wasn't your teacher, nurse, policeman, firefighter or construction worker. I can remember when the word pension wasn't a bad word. I remember, do you?
* Fred Rumsey is the political committee chairman for the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council.